Gender-neutral housing to come to West Campus
Opt-in gender-neutral housing will expand to West Campus starting Fall 2013.
Following months of discussion, the University officially committed to a West Campus gender-neutral housing option Monday. Details of what gender-neutral sections on West will entail are not set in stone, though students and administrators expect that in select coed houses there will be gender-neutral bathrooms on each hall and possibly gender-neutral rooms. Gender-neutral bathrooms are facilities available to students of any gender, and gender-neutral rooms allow for roommate pair of opposite genders.
“What the University’s policy should do is enable the wise choices of young adults but not dictate those choices,” said Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost of undergraduate education. “Ultimately, it’s going to be the decision of the students.”
A letter to be sent to the student body later this week outlines the University’s plan for implementing gender-neutral housing. The letter was drafted by Nowicki; Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta; Duke Student Government President Pete Schork, a senior; and sophomores Sunny Frothingham and Jacob Tobia, co-presidents of Duke Students for Gender Neutrality.
“Duke is committed to offering opt-in gender-neutral housing and restroom options in all coed houses, and we believe that expanding gender-neutral housing and restrooms to West Campus in the 2013-2014 school year marks a significant step towards achieving that goal,” the letter states.
Administrators are still unsure of how large the West Campus gender-neutral housing sections will be Fall 2013, said Joe Gonzalez, associate dean of residence life. Moving forward, administrators and student working groups will have to assess which buildings are best designed for gender neutrality.
In the first years of West Campus gender-neutral housing options, for example, the administration will look for areas where students can easily access three bathrooms in their halls—one each for men and women, as well as one gender-neutral bathroom, Gonzalez said. He noted areas in Kilgo and Few quadrangles as possibly suitable locations.
DSGN first presented a proposal for expanding gender-neutral sections to administrators mid-February. Central Campus adopted a gender-neutral housing option this past Fall. Students of different genders can share an apartment, provided that it includes private bathrooms and bedrooms.
Although some students previously held concerns that gender-neutral options would not be available on West in the near future, Moneta said Fall 2013 was always a real possibility. He added that he has continuously supported gender-neutral housing options throughout the discussions.
Duke is not cutting edge in gender-neutral housing, Nowicki said, noting that the policy is a “well-established trend” among peer institutions. The University of Pennsylvania offered gender-neutral housing in 2005. Dartmouth College, Stanford University, Brown University and Columbia University soon followed.
Duke may not be at the forefront of the issue, but it still has the ability to be a leader in gender neutrality, Schork noted.
“A welcoming community is willing to take certain institutional risks in order to be a welcoming community,” he said. “We are taking more steps to be more of a national leader than we were before.”
Duke wants to implement gender-neutral housing incrementally so that all students—including those who want to live in gender-segregated dorms—will have appealing options, Nowicki said. It will also be easy to provide various living options under the house model.
“What this doesn’t mean is that students who want to live in single-gender sections will be isolated on this campus,” Tobia said. “We’re committing to being an institution where students can choose the living environment that’s best for them.”